Confessions of a Sales Guy

By Steve Harper January 17, 2013

Pragmatic Marketer Volume 10 Issue 1Have you ever wondered (or complained) about salespeople? Of course, you have. And at a ProductCamp recently, I was asked to address this dynamic. I started by asking the group of product managers, “What is the biggest frustration you have with sales?” I got a laundry list of the ills, character flaws and foibles of the sales team. Let’s face it, we are not the easiest people in the world. But we do a hard job and we keep the lights on. Here are the top four sales issues that were mentioned:

  • Salespeople are only concerned with commissions.
  • Salespeople think that they own the customers.
  • Salespeople always want what the product doesn’t have.
  • Salespeople have short attention spans.

This is a small subset of the overall rant I got from that group of product professionals. Frankly, as a sales guy, I think they are fair. But why are we sales guys (and ladies) like this? Let me explain the reality of being a salesperson.

Driven by Commissions

We are intensely concerned with our commissions, because it makes up between 50 percent and 100 percent of our income on a monthly basis. Any given month could be great or lousy, depending on how we do. We also live under the constant threat of losing our jobs. Believe me, as sales professionals, we are generally no more than one or two quarters away from losing our jobs if we do not perform. So if salespeople can sell a bunch of product A, and it is not hard to get installed and has a shorter sales cycle, then that is the product that moves.

If a new product comes out and takes hours of training and has a longer sales cycle, we may try it a couple of times, but will likely fall back to what puts money in our pocket and lets us keep our jobs. If that product is yours to manage, it will suck to be you.

I know, if only we would get you in front of a few customers or prospects, you could help us. What you don’t know is that we tried that once. Yep. We took a product guy in to our best account, and he totally blew a deal that would have made for a huge commission check. I know it wasn’t you, but we won’t take that chance again.

Did this really happen? Maybe. Or maybe I just heard about it from a friend or it is an urban legend. But it is a real fear, and you have to deal with it. After all, salespeople own the customer relationship, which brings me to my next point.

Customer Relationship Owners

Yes, sales owns the customer relationship. Maybe we don’t own the actual customer, but the salesperson is the face of the company. That customer may even have come over from a competitor, simply because the salesperson joined your company. In some cases, they are more loyal to the salesperson than the product. It is that relationship that is the “value” that got the salesperson hired.

Features that Aren’t There

In many cases, customers would buy more or buy now—if only the product had that one single feature that isn’t there. Sometimes that is smoke being blown, but it is a real customer response. Customers want everything, and they want it at half the price. Look at any request for proposal. The customer has taken your specs and those of your four biggest competitors and put all of those features into the “required” column. We are then expected to “sell around” that. That is what we deal with.

Look, a Squirrel!

Yes, we have short attention spans. But it is because we have to; it is the only way we can juggle everything.

We are working numerous deals at any one time, and these deals may have vastly different values, products, services and product managers involved. We have to keep all of this in our heads, and try to make sure that we are as expert at what we do as possible. We go to meetings, learn new products, attend training and update our customer relationship management tools. Meanwhile, we simultaneously deal with service and support issues, make the forecast call, defend the pipeline to our boss and to his boss and attend or dial in to the company meeting. And since many of us are remote and on sales calls, we don’t get to go to that ice cream party in the lunch room or play Frisbee golf at lunch.

You see our relationship building with clients as “schmoozing,” but it also is a critical part of our job. We work many more nights and weekends than you think and play a lot less golf than you imagine. We spend more time in airports and traffic than any human should have to.

We do all of this because we really do love what we do.

Winning with Sales

Here is advice from a sales guy about how to be an asset to the sales team.

First, respect our time. When you are introducing a new product, we want to know four things from you as part of the training:

  1. What problem does this solve?
    • This is a big one. If we don’t really see the problem, how will our prospects and customers? (We love statistics, such as “72 percent of businesses will be cyber attacked in 2012.”)
  2. Who has the problem? 
    • Let’s face it, we won’t get too excited about a great technology that solves a critical problem that only three people admit to having. Your market research should be able to provide this information easily.
    •  We love powerful case studies and success stories.
  3. What does it do? 
    • Hint: It does not shift the paradigm of anything.
    • It is either an evolution of what we do, or something we do not do now but should be doing.
  4. How does it do it? 
    • Provide at a high level, but please, automagic doesn’t exist.
    • We should be able to explain how the product is different from competitors’.

Keep the training short and conduct it online. You should also have a complete go-to-market kit ready when the training takes place. I have attended new product training for products that are not yet ready for release, then received the sales enablement stuff weeks later, then had a launch weeks after that, and then ... What was that new thing again?

You can record a longer, more-specific training for podcasts and webinars. Remember, we have windshield and airport time we can use.

Focus Your Focus Group

Do not use the entire sales team as your market research arm. When we ask how you came up with pricing, please have a reason. It is frustrating if the answers are “what the market will bear” or “we are looking for feedback.” Of course, the feedback will initially be that the price is too high. That is what prospects always say. What we need is the justification for the price. If we are charging $100 to solve a $1,000 problem, excellent! That is a $900 justification. If we are charging $100,000 for a problem that can’t be quantified, then we will hit severe roadblocks.

Find three salespeople that you can partner with to do some field research ahead of time. Don’t go to the No. 1 superstar sales guy and try and get him engaged. You want the No. 3, 4 and 5 sales guys. They are hitting their numbers, but are not as maxed or arrogant as the No. 1 guy. (Yes, I said that.) Work with their boss and use them as your focus group.

How to Get in Front of Customers

As I said, sales owns the customer relationship. If you let that focus group you formed help design the training and sales enablement, they will be more likely to help get you in front of customers and prospects. You will never please everyone, but you will get much further this way.

Starting with line managers can also get you in front of customers and prospects. The vice president or regional vice president may or may not have direct insight into the relationships that the reps have. The regional director (or sales manager) probably will. Once you have some buy in from the line manager, approach him or her with five specific accounts (prospects and customers) that you would like to talk to. Have a brief call or sit down with the relationship owner to lay out what you would like to accomplish, then ask how to make that happen.

You will need to know what to talk about and what not to talk about. Have a good open conversation with the relationship owner. (Here’s a tip: Buy the salesperson lunch. We buy all the time, so it’s nice to be taken to lunch for a change.) Once you have the game plan, make it happen and don’t screw up the deal. Get your data, move to another line manager, rinse and repeat.

In addition to getting you in front of more customers, understanding the sales role and the life we lead will get you further and more engaged with sales. Sales might even stop seeing you as a roadblock. Good Luck!


Steve Harper

Steve Harper

Steve Harper is regional sales manager at Corero Network Security in Hudson, Mass. His 24-year career has spanned the gamut of sales roles, ranging from salesperson to vice president of worldwide sales. He also has founded a sales consulting practice and a software company focusing on sales effectiveness tools. He can be reached at steve.harper@corero.com.

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